Michael Shannon plays a villain with “impulse control issues” in the bike courier thriller “Premium Rush.” Shannon fans will salivate at the thought of that. Nobody can turn on the scary like Michael Shannon.
That means his performance is as amped-up and flat out as the hell-bent-for-rubber young cyclists who hurtle through Manhattan’s crowded canyon-streets in this breathless chase picture.
“Over the top?” Dude was over the top the day he started rehearsals. By the time he got to performing, on camera, he couldn’t SEE the top any more.
Shannon, an Oscar nominee for “Revolutionary Road,” a vision of madness on “Take Shelter,” goes crazy-eyed. He spits. He rants, about his various personal problems, about profanity in “family” viewing time on TV,and about and at this kid (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who won’t give up the package he has to take from WAY uptown to WAY down in Chinatown.
Levitt is Wilee, as in “Wile E. Coyote,” a veteran courier who narrates that “I can’t work in an office.” We later learn he went to law school. But where’s the rush in that? He’s flying through New York on a fixed-gear/no brakes bike that he has utterly mastered. He dodges taxis, flees traffic cops and anticipates which weave will take him onto the hood of a car, into a door that a taxi passenger has just opened or into a mother pushing a baby carriage.
Acclaimed screenwriter and sometimes writer-director David Koepp (“The Trigger Effect”) lets us see Wiley work that equation out, in slow-motion, like Robert Downey’s Sherlock Holmes.
Wiley loves the “Running reds, killing peds” (pedestrians). He adores the freedom of his $80 a day (“If you’re lucky.”) job. He’s warm for fellow courier Vanessa, a poem in sweat in sinew when she’s on a bike. And he can’t stand the muscular Manny (Wole Parks, very funny), who rides a pricey road bike and refers to himself in the third person, except when he’s talking about his cyclist’s physique.
“Have you SEEN my thighs?”
All is almost right with Wiley’s Manhattan on $1200-2000 a Month lifestyle (can’t be done) until he takes that one envelope, handed to him by a panicked Chinese college student on the upper West Side. It’s 5:33. This MUST be delivered to Sister Chen in Chinatown by 7. And that is when Wilee runs afoul of a cop, Mr. Impulse Control Issues, who bellows “Delinquent scum” at one and all as he chases the kid down the island of Manhattan.
Koepp, who scripted a “Jurassic Park” and an “Indiana Jones,” back in the day, tells the story in flashbacks within flashbacks. We meet Wilee as he has an accident. We go back to how this all began, then skip around to fill in chunks of back story. That doesn’t quite cover the film’s loss of momentum as Wilee tries to summon the cops, or failing that, ditch the envelope.
But Koepp, who co-wrote this with his “Zathura” and “Ghost Town” writing partner, John Kamps, has fun with this, turning Shannon loose, having Shannon’s character give out a fake name borrowed from a 1950s B-movie horror screenwriter, “Forrest J. Ackerman.”
The cycling stuff is so sensational that you can’t trust it. Yes, that’s Levitt in a lot of shots, especially the ones where he’s shouting into his Bluetooth at Vanessa on her Bluetooth as they pedal, furiously, downhill, down the island. We also spot the occasional stunt man. Yes, it’s great that this isn’t all digital trickery.
But the near-collisions with cars, trucks, other bikes, etc., feel like composites — a cyclist filmed on a street, the traffic filmed in a separate shot.
Gordon-Levitt is about the same age Kevin Bacon was when he played a nearly over-the-hill bike messenger in “Quicksilver,” and he makes the most of this guy — suicidally fearless (“No gears, no brakes,” no glory) and old enough and smart enough to call for help when this scary Forrest J. Ackerman comes after him.
He and Shannon give the film its pop, its charisma. Supporting players Ramirez, Parks and Aasif Mandvi, as Raj, the couriers’ sassy, inappropriate boss, give the film flavor. And Koepp, old pro that he is, keeps the clock ticking on this lightweight, two-wheeled ticking clock thriller, rush that shows up in a part of the summer where such sensations are a premium.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some violence, intense action sequences and language
Cast: Joseh Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon,
Credits: Directed by David Koepp, written by David Koepp and John Lamps. A Columbia release .
Running time: 1:31